South African national cross country champs took place at the Hayterdale trails near Addo Elephant Park. From the start I set a hard pace, got away and stayed away winning the race with a reasonable gap. With me on the podium was team mate Matthys Beukes in second and Ben Melt Swannepoel in third.
Two days after SA champs we were off to Andorra for the 4th world cup race. In the XCE race I did not go all out in my qualifying run and qualified 13th. In the 1/8 heat I made it first over the line comfortably with allot of time to spare. With my 1/4 final heat I could just not get into that 1st or 2nd spot to progress. In the end I finished 11th.
My XCO race was good. I felt a hundred times better than all the previous world cup races this year. I lined up 21st and sat comfortably behind a few riders going through the start into the head wind. After the first intermediate split I was only a few seconds off the leading bunch. I had to back off a bit and settled in around 32nd place for the next few laps. With 1.5 laps to go I slashed the sidewall of my tire. I came to the race without spare wheels. Had some very expensive overweight issues at the Emirates check in counter and my spare wheels were the second thing to stay at home. My race was pretty much over by then and I rode to the finish on my rim to get pulled off the track and make sure I score what ever points I could.
We have three days more here in Andorra before we have to catch our flight back home. Good time to get into the mountains at good altitude.
The fourth and final race of our National Cross Country series took place at the Mankele bike park near Nelspruit.
Four days before the event I came back from a World Cup race in Italy. Although I got my first ever World Cup podium in the Eliminator race I was not happy at all with my performance in the Cross Country event two days later. The results were not hundred percent what I went out for but I still scored valuable UCI points and my world ranking is up to 19th now
With my return home to South Africa I had some precautionary blood tests done at the Pretoria High Performance Centre just for a good peace of mind. My system was taking some shots with the stresses of being sick just before traveling all over the world for the last few weeks.
Back in Mankele it was great to have some tranquil vibes out in the bushveld. The race track did'n have much climbing in it, but very rocky and fast trails.
With the first two laps I went out hard and opened up a reasonable gap over a strong chasing bunch. By lap four James Reid impressively closed the gap and it was race on between the two of us for the last two laps. Here and there I tried to apply pressure through the technical bits but halfway through the final lap I was content to take it down to a sprint finish.
I won the race in a sprint finish just ahead of James. Team mate Matthys Beukes secured third some thirty seconds behind us.
For the next three weeks I will travel as little as possible and won't participate in any races. It is again time to focus on quality training and recovery in preparation for the South African National Championships in Port Elizabeth and the next World Cup race in Andorra.
A week after SA Marathon champs we find ourselves in Italy for the third UCI World Cup event.
Yesterday I raced the XC eliminator. I qualified 4th fastest and managed to make it through all the way to the semi finals. In the first 10 meters of my semi final heat I snapped my chain. I had to finish the lap if I wanted the opportunity to race in the small final for that 5th spot on the podium. A few minutes after my easy jog safely around the track we lined up again for the small final. I managed to win this heat and got myself the spot on the podium.
I cant say that my legs feel like they had an easy day out, but I scored valuable UCI points and got some good airtime. They broadcasted the race live on television here and we saw a rerun earlier today as well. 36 hours should be enough recovery time to be ready for the XCO race on Saturday.
After the World Cup in Albstadt we had a 7 hour drive to get to Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic to take part in the second World Cup.
This time I was entered and felt ready to do the cross country eliminator race on Friday as well. For this race I qualified 2nd fastest and got eliminated in the quarter final heat. I ended up finishing 13th, my best result thus far in the XCE format. I wanted to do better though.
Sunday it was time for the main event. Except for it being 7 degrees Celsius the weather conditions were looking pretty good. I lined up 19th and had a great start loop then settled into around 38th place where I felt allot more comfortable than the previous weekend. From here on I started moving up and was lying 28th at one stage. Top 20 was just ahead of me at the front of the bunch I was in.
It felt like I was riding pretty much within my limits, but in the last two laps I went into deep oxygen debt and struggled to recuperate without going slow! I lost a lot of positions and ended up finishing 49th.
The preparation for this first European trip was good, the bike was perfect, start position was ideal, the flu was untimely, the results should have been better..., but the experience was great. It is now time to head home where I will join up with Matthys Beukes to give South African marathon champs in Hazyview a good bash this weekend!
After Cape Epic I spent 4 weeks to build on my speed for the cross country season. I did all the crucial sessions and when it was time to take it easy I came down with flu for 5 days. The hard work was done, but I still had some after effects from the flu when it was time to race on Sunday.
My CTL (Chronic Training Load) value is the highest it has ever been going into racing.
Three years ago I raced on this same track in Albstadt when I came to Europe for the first time with Mr African (Mannie Heymans) and Team Garmin. The track had changed since three years ago, but the weather on race day was exactly the same.
My light weight Scott Scale RC 29er combined with Maxxis Beaver 2.0 tyres front and rear pumped to 19psi was the perfect combination for this steep and slippery course.
On the start line we had a moment of silence to pay our respects to Burry Stander and two other fallen riders. I was seeded 19th and had the perfect spot going into the first bit of single track lying around 8th. Throughout the race I could never really settle into a comfortable fast pace and just kept on losing positions. I just suffered throughout the whole race! This is normal to suffer, but usually I can find a “comfortable” pace to suffer in and get used to it. I think the flu still had the better of me in this race. I finished 57th. Hopefully I can prove myself right this weekend at Nove Mesto and get some confidence and reward for four weeks of hard training.
We are now in Nove Mesto. What a privilege to be here and thanks to Scott Sports Africa I even have Morne van Rensburg, AKA @Manniesebroer, with me as support!
Optimum recovery after every stage was our main focus in this year's tenth edition of The ABSA Cape Epic. Matthys and I never really raced together in the last 2 years, only against each other at local races. It took us the first two days to sort of "find" each other in this team racing vibe. We also settled into a good recovery ritual after each day witch involved USN recovery products, double shot espressos, ice baths, massages, beetroot juice and we even had an electric scooter to eliminate any unnecessary walking. For what ever little bit everything was worth, I think it all contributed to recovering faster and we only started feeling better throughout the eight days. Plenty of praying went into it all as well. So many things have to go right to do well in this race.
Another strategy we had was to ride conservatively and safe to ensure we have as little as possible mechanical issues or crashes...,we had absolutely none of this. The SCOTT Spark 29ers we raced also contributed in minimizing our overall body fatigue. I can not imagine how I did my first epic 4 years ago on a Aluminum 26 inch hard tail....,getting soft now..
We have learnt allot in this Epic and there is still loads of things that we can do better and we now have a whole year to plan and prepare for the next one!
Our goal with this Epic was to win the All African Jersey competition. We didn't know that we would have to race deep in the top 10 to get this jersey. Our worst day was definitely day 3. We both blew at about 90km and had to spend extra time refueling at the last waterpoint. We lost about 12 minutes on Cannondale Blend that day. The Podium we got on Stage 4 was with some luck, but our sprint finish on the final day was an all out effort!! That was probably the loudest cheer I've ever heard as we got onto the field! I would come back just to experience it again! Another special moment and honor was receiving the Burry Stander Memorial trophy from Cherise Stander for being the first African team.
African champs took place in Pietermaritzburg on the Cascades track. My legs were still very fragile after the fierce 4 days of racing at Grape Escape. For the first 3 laps Renay Groustra was away with me but unfortunately suffered a mechanical problem. I was alone and my pace was very chilled. I played it safe even into a few walks down the slippery rock garden. I wasn't keen on taking any unnecessary risks a week before Epic. The only problem I had in the race was on lap 5 where I slid out on one of the corners and burped my front tire and had to stop and inflate the wheel. I secured the title of Elite African Continental Champion for another year!
I raced The Nashua Grape Escape very aggressively and this probably cost me the shot at winning this stage race overall....,but I definitely got some good conditioning for the Epic out of this....
On day one I got in a break with Erik Kleinhans for a while and was later reeled in by a select bunch of riders. On a very undulating part of the route I kept on attacking, thinning out this lead bunch. Unfortunately I could't stick up the final climb and ended up 1min40s behind the leaders in 8th place.
On day two I took a gamble and made a early break for it about 20km into the race. Again I was reeled in with about 15km to go on the flat roads approaching the finish. Got 5th. I was now 4 minutes from the front.
With 20km to go on the final day, Christof was away and I bridged over to him and we worked together. I was going for the stage win or 3rd place overall. To get 3rd place I had to ride more or less 2minutes out of James Reid. I finished 2nd just behind Christof and could only ride 1min and a few seconds out of James. On GC at the end I managed to get 4th.
Sunday It was time for the Argus MTB race. My legs were definitely feeling it now. Riders that didn't race Grape Escape came with fresh legs and made the pace hard from the start. Confusion on route and plenty attacks scattered the field. Christof Sauser crossed the finish line first, followed by Matthys Beukes then me in 3rd. With all the confusion out on course the organizers decided to have two podiums in the mens competition. The second podium had Erik Kleinhans on the top step then Kohei Yamamoto second and Dominic Calitz in third.
My Epic partner, Matthys Beukes, seems to be back in full swing of things after having bronchitis and I am confident and happy with my current shape going into Epic.
The first 20km of the race was pretty chilled. As we started climbing up the first huge mountain of the day, Darren Lill got a gap on the rest of the field.
I bridged over to Darren on the very washed out and long high speed downhill after this climb. Time made up on any downhill is free..,I was very cautious though. Darren and I rode together for a while. He unfortunately took a wrong turn at some stage which left me alone up front with a 2min lead over the rest.
At about 70km just before we went out for the second loop I had to stop and plug a slow puncture. It seemed like the wheel would hold up. Later again I started loosing air and ran out of bombs with no tech-zones up ahead. By now I was already down into 9th position. I had to ride the last 25km on a very flat rear wheel. I was passed by one more rider 2km from the finish. No use in asking for a bomb at this stage....
Better luck next time!
Sabie was the first race on the Spark 29er...,fit the job prescription perfectly. I will definitely race this bike allot more!
Photo: Hanno Lategan
Mud was the order of the day for the first SA cross country national race on Saturday. Seemed like these European conditions came with some European riders as well! We had the privilege to race against Florian Vogel And Ralph Naf, two top world ranked riders.
Up the climb in lap one I got to the front but briefly pulled off due to gear problems. This put me back in about 7th. I spent allot getting into the chasing bunch. It was now James Reid up in front and then a bunch including Brendon Davids, Ralph, Florian and I. We managed to reel James in after a few laps. I attacked and Ralph joined me only to have some bike problems later.
There was about a 25s gap between James and I for the last two laps that gave me the victory!
Photo: Hanno Lategan